Last weekend, we went to an Austrian food festival at the Hofburg palace in Vienna. The motto of the festival was “Essen ist Heimat” which Google translates rather awkwardly as “is eating home.” In fact, it’s an expression meaning “eating is homeland” or “eating is homey” or something along those lines.

Austrians, like Germans, are very into heimat. Here’s how Wikipedia defines the concept:

Heimat is a German word that has no simple English translation, denoting the relationship of a human being towards a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations. It is often expressed with terms such as home or homeland.

Heimat is a German concept. People are bound to their heimat by their birth and their childhood, their language, their earliest experiences or acquired affinity. For instance, Swiss citizens have their Heimatort (the municipality where the person or its ancestors became citizens) on their identification. Heimat as a trinity of descendance, community and tradition—or even the examination of it— highly affects a person’s identity.

Naturally, when “Austrians” and “homeland” are in the same sentence, it can have some iffy connotations. Especially when a crowd starts clapping along to military-style brass bands as frequently occurs at these festivals. When they start banging beer mugs on the table, you wonder if maybe you should warn the Slovaks.

However this beautiful summer day was all about expressing heimat-ness by enjoying local food and wine while wearing traditional Tyrolean clothing, or trachten. I was surprised to find when I came to Austria that people actually wear these outfits. I thought they were more or less a costume worn by waitresses and such. But in fact, people right here in Vienna wear their trachten to church on Sundays and to other special occasions. There are trachten stores throughout the city. Even second-hand stores stock dirndls (frilly, tight-bodiced dresses), lederhosen (leather shorts, usually worn with suspenders) and hunting jackets.

By the way, all American men LOVE these outfits. Not wearing them, of course. (What red-blooded American man voluntarily puts on leather shorts?) Looking at women wearing the full kit. The term “hot babes in dirndls” has come up more than once in our household. I am sure there is some Y-linked beer hall waitress button in the male brain that gets pushed and makes the endorphins go crazy. You know, like with dogs and the bacon button :)

There was some seriously good eating going down at this festival. Austrian cuisine is a bit limited, but what they do well, they do very well. The ham and sausages are probably the best in the world. The cheese is darn good, too. And the beer? Well, a lot of countries have good beer, but Austria’s is right up there, that’s for sure. Living here may take a year or two off my life, but I think it’s going to be worth it.

Note: I have been told that my photo captions do not show up in Google Reader for some reason. If you are reading my blog that way, you might want to click on the article title to open the full version, so you can see the captions.

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